Monday, January 26, 2009

Is My Child Having Sex?

Advice for parents on how to talk to teens about sex, from parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd.

Q. My 15-year-old daughter has been dating an older boy from another school for about 6 months. Both my wife and I like the boyfriend, and of course we trust our daughter, who has always been responsible and outgoing. However, they are extremely affectionate around each other, constantly holding hands and often kissing and hugging. And my daughter has recently begun to wear shorter skirts and more revealing shirts. I'm worried about what's happening when we're not here to stop them. I'm afraid they're having sex and I think they're much too young to handle this responsibility or the consequences. How should we handle this situation?

A. You cannot leave this situation to chance. It's best to bring up the issue of premature and premarital sex, and voice your concerns. Talk of your hopes and dreams for your child's future. Explain that physical and emotional issues related to sex -- and this includes the possibility of a baby -- could ruin her future plans. If you're reluctant to bring up the topic, find someone who will. This person could be a family friend, counselor, or trusted relative.
To forbid your daughter to have sex or to deny her contraception is naive. To think that you can watch your daughter and her boyfriend at all times is unrealistic. Teens are very skilled about finding a way to satisfy their sexual urges. Let her know the message her clothing conveys; it suggests she's interested in revealing her body and possibly satisfying her sexual desires.
Telling a sexually interested or active teenager to not engage in sexual activity is like shoveling sand against the adolescent tide. Once a child goes through puberty, his or her body is equipped to procreate, and it's difficult to reverse their interest in sex once puberty takes hold.
Besides being risky physically (because of sexually transmitted diseases and the concern of pregnancy), an intimate sexual relationship is often beyond the emotional wherewithal of most teens. Most teens don't consider this when they are out to satisfy their sexual drive. You must also prepare and protect you teenager from the burden of the emotions related to a sexual relationship.
Today the attitude of many parents of teens is a "don't ask, don't tell" approach. If parents don't see signs, then it's out of the parent's mind. Such an approach is irresponsible. Every parent needs to address sexuality issues with his or her teen. Since you're seeing signs, there is no way you can let the situation alone.
Despite the need to open up dialogue with your daughter about her clothes and public displays of affection, it's important to let her know that you love her no matter what. It's not easy, particularly because your daughter might scoff or blow up at you. Bear up nevertheless. Proceed with love and determination to make your points regardless of how you fear your daughter will respond.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for, and a weekly parenting advice column in The Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Back from the Brink: One Teen's Struggle with Alcoholism

It started with a glass of wine when Leigh Ann Nolan was 12. Then came the fall -- failing grades, lying, despair, and rage that tore her family apart. Four years later an all-out intervention -- and her family's love and faith -- helped save her.
A Full-Blown Alcoholic at 15

It was September 2005, the night of the varsity volleyball match against archrival The Bolles School, and the hundreds of teens heading into the gym at Bishop Kenney High in Jacksonville, Florida, were stoked. So was 15-year-old Leigh Ann Nolan, who'd spent the day drinking rum. "My big sister, Jennifer, had driven me and a friend of hers to the game, but they had no idea I was wasted," she says. "Other than stumbling through the door, I don't remember a thing." That's because Leigh Ann had downed three 12-ounce water bottles filled with Bacardi 151, a liquor so potent -- 75.5% alcohol -- it's actually as flammable as lighter fluid. Jennifer, however, has total recall of what happened next. She watched as Leigh Ann somehow made her way to the top of the bleachers on the other side of the court. "She called out to me," Jennifer says. "She was giggling, but she looked ill. Suddenly, here comes my sister rolling down the steps onto the gym floor, throwing up all over herself."

Friends ran over and carried Leigh Ann to the bathroom. When police arrived, they found her lying on the floor, babbling incoherently, and were unable to rouse her. By the time she arrived by ambulance at nearby Wolfson Children's Hospital, her breathing was shallow and irregular, her heart rate had slowed, and she was in danger of choking on her own vomit. "The ER physician explained that they didn't normally admit teenagers for being drunk, but Leigh Ann was suffering from acute alcohol poisoning and at risk of dying," says her mother, Susan, who had rushed to hospital with her husband, David. The Nolans spent the next 24 hours in an anxious vigil as Leigh Ann was administered IV fluids and vitamins in order to flush the alcohol from her 5'10", 150-pound frame. When she regained consciousness the next day, doctors told her she was lucky to be alive.

But Leigh Ann was beyond the point of being scared sober. She was in the grips of a full-blown addiction that had begun three years earlier with her first sip of wine; within months she'd graduated to the hard stuff and was soon nursing vodka in class and stashing liquor bottles in her school locker. Susan, 52, a sales executive, and David, 57, a human resources manager, knew their daughter was in trouble -- but not how deep -- and having tried everything from tough love to therapy, felt helpless to save her. This time they had Leigh Ann undergo three weeks of intensive treatment for chemical dependency at Ten Broeck Hospital in Jacksonville and attend AA meetings nearly every other day. That, too, failed. "I got sober for all of one week," Leigh Ann says. "Quitting wasn't a matter of wanting to. I was hooked -- on the high and the adrenaline rush of sneaking around and fooling people. Drinking numbed the pain from all hassles of life, but it wasn't like my problems disappeared. I knew if I stopped I would feel it really bad all over again."
The Beginning of an Alcohol Addiction

It's an early fall evening, and Leigh Ann, 18, sits on the bed in her Jacksonville apartment -- a few miles from the red-brick ranch house where she grew up -- sifting through her memories. "We had a pretty great family," she says, recalling how she loved to play sports with her dad and tease Jennifer, two years older, by stealing her Barbie and Ken dolls. Leigh Ann was still the tomboy when she enrolled at Hendricks Methodist Day School, where she was captain of the basketball team and a star soccer player, but a C student. Near the end of seventh grade, she was home alone one night when she came across an open bottle of white wine in the kitchen and, on a whim, poured herself a glass. "It tasted good, and I liked the feeling -- all warm and relaxed," she says. "I didn't understand alcohol other than it being something my parents drank every now and then. And not just them -- everybody. All the TV shows we watched had people drinking, from Friends to Will & Grace. I figured it was part of life, and I wanted to check it out."
Of course the reason wasn't that simple. Leigh Ann had been a sunny, sociable kid throughout elementary school. But when puberty hit, she no longer felt comfortable in her skin. Her moods darkened, she turned inward, and fault lines opened up within the family. "My mom and I both have strong personalities, and we couldn't find common ground -- not even the sky being blue," she says. "We should've been able to have cool conversations, but I was never the kind who could talk about clothes or hair or gossip magazines. My sister was popular and accomplished -- everything I wasn't -- and as we got older our relationship got worse. I still liked my dad, but we grew apart too." Leigh Ann also found the social life at Hendricks way harsh. "I hung out with the guys a lot because they kind of thought of me as one of them. But the girls were jealous of that and shut me out. I guess I felt really lonely."
Leigh Ann took to secretly drinking in her room whenever her parents were out or too busy to notice. "I'd steal bottles from the wine cases my mom stored in the garage for this gift-basket business she had, then dump them in the recycling bin when nobody was around," she says. By eighth grade, the 13-year-old was hanging with older kids in the neighborhood, chugging beer and rum and bringing home the bottles they didn't finish. Soon she was desperate to get wasted as quickly as possible. "I went into my parents' liquor cabinet, where the vodka was," she recalls. "I hated the stuff at first -- it was really gross the way it burned my throat, and I almost started crying. But I wanted that feeling of freedom, of being uninhibited, of not having to worry."
Susan and David watched with alarm as their daughter grew sullen and disengaged. Leigh Ann lost interest in soccer and basketball, her grades slumped, and she fell into a depression so severe that they sent her for her first stay at Ten Broeck. But Leigh Ann kept her distance -- and her torment -- to herself. "I never let on, but deep down I was ashamed I hadn't done anything to make my mom and dad proud," she says. "Jennifer was good and never got in trouble, and I felt they liked her better. I wanted us to do more things as a family, but when we did go on vacation, I'd ditch them at night and go drinking with kids I'd never see again." Her parents, who had never seen her drink, didn't suspect alcohol abuse, nor had they discussed the dangers of drinking with Leigh Ann or Jennifer. David might have a beer once a week and Susan a glass of wine when friends came over for dinner, and they assumed that being good role models for their girls would be enough. "Looking back, it's clear we were oblivious to the warning signs," says David. "We thought she was just going through the usual problems of being a teenager."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Teens - Perfect Pitch-Instruction

Here's a guideline we love. "Your teen is pretty much capable of doing any of the chores you do," says Marilee Sprenger, MEd, a professor at Aurora University in Illinois who studies brain development and memory. "The best way to motivate a child this age is to make him feel in control. Set up a chore system together, for example, or offer choices." You probably can't get away without giving out allowance at this point, but make sure your teen uses her moolah wisely. Rather than tying the cash to specific chores, most experts agree that it's better to link payday to their overall contribution and responsibility so they won't expect a bonus every single time they pitch in.

Perfect Pitch-Instruction - Every mom must read!

Cleaning crew. Lighten your housekeeping load by giving your teen a weekly gig -- whether it's mopping, dusting, or vacuuming.

Kiss clutter goodbye. No, it's not okay for your kid's room to look like a hurricane tore through it.
Establish a system for regular straightening up and make sure he sticks to it.

Get cooking. Show your child how to make a few easy dishes (stir-fry, tacos, etc.) and let her be in charge of family dinners once or twice a month.

Launder up. Teach your teen to wash his own clothes now -- even if he grumbles the whole way through. He'll be eternally grateful when he's on his own in college.

Be the family gofer. Just a hunch, but we bet your Miss Independent will have no problem running errands (to grab the dry cleaning, etc.) as long as she gets to flex her newly licensed driving muscles.

Strike while the iron's hot. If your mini fashionista demands perfectly pressed attire, show her how to iron -- and let her give your wardrobe a smoothing too.

Are You Choosing the Right Chores For Big Kids?

Want your kid to pitch in around the house? Our creative chore charts help get the job done.

Why All Kids Should Pitch In

Experts say assigning chores to your children is great for them -- it fosters responsibility, boosts self-esteem, and helps them feel like an important part of the fam. But here's a modern-mom reality: Farming out to-dos usually means redoing chores the right way after your child has skipped off to school or to bed. And if you're stuck making the bed again anyway, what's the help in that?

The key is to give kids the right chores for their ages. "There's always a learning curve for kids, whether they're toddlers or teenagers," says Patricia Greenfield, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But the best way to encourage kids to pitch in -- without making more work for yourself -- is to make sure the jobs are age-appropriate." Check out these great ideas, plus expert suggestions for ways to reward them for pitching in.


The word "chore" hardly applies to youngest kids because they're so eager to spend time with you and love helping out, says Greenfield. The key: Pick easy tasks that won't frustrate your toddler. And because chores are fun at this stage, don't worry about ponying up allowance or other rewards as incentive. Just heap on the praise for a job well done.
Perfect Pitch-Ins

Tidy up toys.

Turn cleaning into teaching by asking your kid to gather all the orange blocks first, say, or to put T. rex to sleep on the shelf.

Sop up spills.

Raise a little Miss Manners by showing her how to blot up minor messes with a paper towel.

Destroy dust bunnies.

Slip an old, unmatched sock on your child's hand and send him on a mission to pick up as much dust as he can find on low-lying tables and furniture (making sure there are no sharp edges, of course).

Dabble in dinner prep.

Let her top the salad with cherry tomatoes or help mix up brownie batter.

Deliver dirty laundry.

Plant a small portable hamper in your kid's room and show him how to drop his clothes in there at the end of the day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Grandma Spoiling Your Kids?????

Have gift-giving grandparents gone out of control?
Are the kids getting too greedy?

Expert advice for one mother who is faced with such questions.

Q. Every time my parents come to visit my kids, they bring them presents. I've repeatedly asked them not to, but the gifts keep coming. However, the other day, my mom made a last-minute decision to stop by, and she came empty-handed. My children asked where their presents were, and my mom got all upset. She told me to explain to the girls that gifts should not be expected. Am I to blame for the expectations my folks created?

A. Part of you may want to wag your finger at Mom and say, "Told ya so." But instead of this unproductive approach, agree with her that you hate to see your kids display such a blatant case of the gimmes. Then explain that it's difficult to teach kids that Grandma isn't a walking toy store if she always arrives toting a Toys "R" Us bag. What would she think about limiting gifts to birthdays and holidays?

If she's the type who can't bear to come empty-handed, talk about things she could bring that don't come from a toy store. A toddler may be delighted by a pretty seashell or a piece of costume jewelry that Grandma doesn't wear anymore. Another idea is to suggest she bring the makings of an activity they could do together, such as ingredients to make cupcakes or supplies for an art project. Better yet, suggest they snuggle up with a book and read together -- the best gift of all.

Dealing with Divorce

Every year, more than one million children in the United States experience the divorce of their parents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Many of these children are under the age of 6. Divorce brings about a great deal of changes for a family and the children usually have trouble adjusting to this new lifestyle. Read on for some guidelines on making the transition easier for the youngest members of the family.

Here are some tips from the AAP and the American Medical Association (AMA) on telling your child about an impending divorce and helping ensure a smoother transition for everyone:

Have both parents present to explain the situation.

Explain divorce as a means to make Mommy and Daddy happier.

Make it clear that your child is not the source of the problem and is in no way responsible for the failure of the marriage.

Assure your child that Mommy and Daddy are both still his parents, even if they're no longer husband and wife.

Don't let any personal antagonism between you and your partner into the conversation.
Answer your child's questions honestly and age-appropriately.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Girls Growing Up Too Fast

When did 7 become the new 16? For today's young girls, the pressure to look and act hot is greater than ever. Here's help cooling things down.

The Sexy-Girl Syndrome

The job description for parent says you prep yourself for the dicey stuff kids are likely to ask for. So I was ready for the day my daughter would beg for a fashion doll of notoriously unrealistic proportions, or even for one of those skimpily dressed Bratz dolls. Instead, last fall my 7-year-old freaked me out a whole different way-by begging for a bra. "Two girls in my class have them," she argued.

Skeptical that she'd gotten her facts straight, I checked out a local children's store. Yikes! They had a whole assortment of flirty bras and panties perfectly sized for second-graders. Staring at those crazy underthings, and at the body-glitter tubes on the counter, something creepy dawned on me. Today's girls don't just want to own a hot-looking doll, they want to be one.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so shocked. After all, my daughter and her friends are more likely to worship teen heroes like Troy and Gabriella from the High School Musical movies than to expend energy adoring cuddly cartoon characters like the Care Bears. And these same kids are the ones shaking their little booties when the Pussycat Dolls come on the radio, singing, "Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?"

Clearly, something's going on, so much so that the American Psychological Association (APA) recently convened a task force on girls' sexualization. "There's a real syndrome happening, and it's picking up speed," says Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, who chaired the APA group. "Even little girls are now feeling they should look and act alluring." Her committee found that this is harmful to girls on several levels.

"The core issue is what they feel valued for," Zurbriggen explains. "It's as though factors like whether they're smart or funny or kind or talented at something like sports or art get erased." And their self-esteem suffers for it. "The images their idols present are so idealized, most girls can't attain them. That makes them feel bad about their own bodies, and this can eventually lead to anxiety and depression," Zurbriggen says. Preoccupation with their "hot-o-meter" score can even hurt their school performance. "A girl's mind becomes literally so full of worries about how she looks and what other people are thinking, she doesn't have enough energy left to focus on learning," says Zurbriggen.

How did things get that way, and what can parents do to counteract the situation? For answers, we have to look beyond the kiddie lingerie aisle.